Image: New York Times
Myanmar’s history has witnessed a ruthless military rule since its independence from Britain in 1948. On February 1, Myanmar military detained many political leaders, activists and senior leaders of National League for Democracy (NLD) in Naypidaw and other parts of the country. Aung San Su ki, the popular leader in Myanmar and who is also the president of NLD detained in her house. The reason behind this is that NLD won maximum number of seats in the general election held in November 2020. Myanmar had a short lived experience of quasi-democratic system after 2011, when the powerful military, named “Tatmadaw” began parliamentary election since 1962.
In the November 2020 election, NLD won 346 seats, which is more than the 322 seats required to form a new government. The election results in favour of Aung San Suu Kyi, a democratic icon and a popular leader in Myanmar, startled the military regime. The army is trying to reverse the election, accusing unfair and biased election. Ms Suu Kyi is held at her home and police filed several charges against her and sent in custody until February 15.
On this constitutional crisis of Myanmar, UN secretary General Antonio Guterres said that election turnover is “unacceptable” and urged the international community to ensure the failure of military takeover. However, China and Russia are the two big obstacles as permanent members of United National Security Council (UNSC). As per expectation, China blocked the UNSC statement that condemns the military crackdown on elected leaders and seizing power.
Ruthless military regime since the dawn of Burma’s Independence
The Tyranny of military has a long standing history in Myanmar’s (Burma). The assassination of General Aung San in 1947, a national hero of Burma’s independence, the founder of Burma National Army, being ramified Burma into a military dominated state. Though it was a sort of parliamentary democracy with heavy military influence until the military coup by General Ne Win in 1962.
The coup leader General Ne Win imposed a harsh authoritarian regime, featuring suspension of 1947 constitution, suppressing demonstrations and arresting political opponents and heavy handedness on “ethnic armed groups”.
The resentment against Ne Win’s regime exploded into a mass protest in 1988, predominantly led by students demanding multi-party system, resulted in the replacement of old military regime to new one and the formation of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). The new military regime stood on the burial of hundreds of thousands of protesters.
At the same time pro-democracy voices grew stronger, therefore, SLORC allowed the registration of political parties. By this major development, Daw Aung San Suu ki, the daughter of Major General Aung San, founded the National League of Democracy (NLD) and raised her voice against abuse of power by military and made pressure on military regimeto hold elections. That intimidated military Junta and placed her under house arrest.
Under the domestic and international pressure, military regime held the election in 1990, the NLD won the elections but military Junta refused to accept the election result. Military maintained the tight control over the government, arrested elected leaders and activists, and placed Suu ki under house arrest, a condition of isolation in which she remained intermittently for two decades.
In 2008, military regime adopted a new constitution in a controversial referendum, ensuring military’s control over the government by reserving 25 percent seats of parliament for military officials. The new constitution also disqualified the spouse or a parent of foreign national, to be the president of Myanmar, provide to exclude the Daw Aung San Suu ki.
Nonetheless, Suu ki sought popularity at national and international level as well. Her party kept on winning elections in 2015 and 2020, served as a “state counsellor of Myanmar”.
Military regime and Genocide
The military regime showed another brutal face in 2017, when it started the “clearance operations” to wipe out the ethnic minorities, mainly Muslim Rohingya.According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “Since then, an estimated 745,000 Rohingya—including more than 400,000 children—have fled into Cox’s Bazar”.
The former High U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights described the military operations as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and stated the military actions seemed to be “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return”.
In 2019, an Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM),established by the Human Rights Council (HRC), submitted its report of “genocidal intent” of military regime against ethnic minorities in Myanmar. Marzuki Darusman, chair of the Fact-Finding Mission, said, “The international community must hold the Myanmar military to account for the tremendous pain and suffering it has inflicted on persons of all genders across the country.”
Notably, it was very shocking for the international community and pro-democracy groups, when the state counsellor Suu ki supported the military regime against accusation of genocide, in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in December 2019. It may be the repercussion of supporting the military for it brutality against innocent people, which led her in imprisonment, despite her perpetual efforts for establishing democracy in Myanmar.
Counting on China and Geopolitics.
Despite the severe condemnation at international level, for Rohingya crisis, Myanmar heavily relied on China for its diplomatic support. China used its veto power to stop any action against the military regime. China has been playing diplomatically on supporting Myanmar in the United Nations. The reasons behind this as follows: First, is ideological reason, to disregard the democracy and stand by authoritarianism, which China have a political system.
Second, geopolitics to have an ally in South East Asia, which oppose western countries.
Third, economics: Chinese investment and infrastructure projects in Myanmar.
However, White House strongly condemn the military coup and detention of Aung San Suu ki, termed as an “assault on democracy and rule of law”. US President Joe Biden discussed the strategy to deal with China and military coup in Myanmar, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The first and foremost action could be widening the sanctions on Myanmar by US and its allies. However, it is very less expected to take any steps towards military intervention in Myanmar at the time of the Pandemic, when all the countries have been struggling to lessen the impact of Corona Virus.
A Hope for Democracy?
Until now, it is well understood that Tatmadaw is very powerful in Myanmar and it is likely impossible to accept the election results and transition of power to winners. It has been widely seen that the major powers and the UNSC could not do much in the Rohingya crisis with the ongoing support of China and Russia in the UNSC.
It is worth to ponder that mere condemnation and limited sanctions by the US and other members of the international community would not drive the military ruler to bring normalcy back and transfer the power to elected leaders since China and Russia support Myanmar in the UNSC.
Tag words: Myanmar, Tatmadaw, Military coup, Democracy, UNSC.